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Challenge to Democracy, A

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Challenge to Democracy, A

Published 1944

Government-produced film attempting to defend the massive internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.

Run time 17:13
Producer U.S. War Relocation Authority
Sponsor U.S. War Relocation Authority with the cooperation of the Office of War Information and the Office of Strategic Services
Audio/Visual Sd, B&W


Film on the massive internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War II.
The film tries to reassure the viewer that the conditions in the camps are not too "soft" -- that the Japanese Americans there have to work hard and actually provide for many of their own needs, costing the taxpayer as little as possible. It also takes pains to describe the internees as involved in community activities like the Boy Scouts, Red Cross and church-going. It makes the point several times that internees are mostly loyal to America, but that the potential threat they pose is being dealt with appropriately. There is also footage of Japanese American fighting units in training. Hart Mountain, Wyoming

Ken Smith sez: This weird film -- the U.S. government's view of life inside its World War II Japanese-American internment camps -- is an early exercise in political damage control. One of its more enjoyable aspects is its baldfaced use of pleasant-sounding euphemisms to recast the nasty things it shows us.
"The people are not under suspicion," the narrator informs us, as we see Japanese-Americans being herded onto trains. "They are not prisoners. They are not internees. They are merely dislocated people." He adds, "Their evacuation did not imply individual disloyalty but was ordered to reduce a military hazard." As the camera pans past armed guards in watchtowers and chain-link fences topped with barbed wire, we are told that these are simply "symbols of the military nature of the evacuation."
This confusing clash between what we see and what we're told continues throughout the film; sometimes the narration is nice and the visuals are nasty, sometimes it's the other way around. For example, we're shown the industrious internees growing their own food (they had to, we're informed, or else they'd starve) on "lands that had never been occupied or farmed." But then we're told that none of the surplus was allowed onto the open market. "Those who work are paid," we're informed, and we see smiling internees collecting their paychecks -- but then the narrator adds that "wages, by outside standards, are low," and gives us the particulars: Twelve to nineteen dollars a month (the latter for doctors). "Most have had to draw on their savings to live as they would like to."
Next, we're shown a series of location shots of internee beauty queens, boys scouts and baseball games, while the narrator blandly admits that the Japanese-Americans had to dip into their savings accounts (again) to fund such activities. "The government does not provide money for purely recreational purposes," we're told, matter-of-factly (Perhaps the War Relocation Authority was trying to have it both ways -- producing a film that would appease both proponents and opponents of internment? Politicians may advance through compromise, but it makes for a messy film).
We're told that in 1943, many of the internees were let out of the camps temporarily -- to perform grunt-labor harvest work on surrounding farms (some of which the internees had previously owned). "Most of the people returned to the centers," notes the narrator, which isn't surprising. However, he adds, "The War Relocation Authority has been more concerned with PERMANENT relocation. Getting the evacuees out of the BACKWATER of the relocation centers, into the mainstream of American life." The narrator reminds us that the WRA wants to speed Japanese-American resettlement "so their labor can help to win the war, so the cost to the taxpayer may be reduced," and "so there may be no question of the constitutionality of any part of the action taken by the government."
We see a hand leafing through a "Leave Clearance Docket" (it's packed with over thirty pages of forms), while the narrator reassures us that "only those evacuees whose statements and whose acts leave NO QUESTION OF THEIR LOYALTY to the United States are permitted to leave" (a guilty-until-proven-innocent approach that was later adopted by Joseph McCarthy). Now the film becomes optimistic, treating us to dozens of staged shots of smiling Japanese-Americans toiling in Midwest factories. "American flags -- some of them for the armed forces -- are turned out by Mrs. Yoshia Abi," the narrator informs us. "She hopes that one of the flags she makes some day may be carried in triumph down the streets of Tokyo!" And, "Henry Logoro used to be a farmer in Fresno, California. From the Jerome relocation camp he moved to the Midwest -- to make marshmallows!"
The film ends with footage of a Japanese-American combat team in training. "They know what they're fighting for!" the narrator declares. In case we're not quite sure what that is at this point, he describes it as "The American ideals that are part of their upbringing. Democracy. Freedom. Equality of opportunity. Regardless of race, creed, or ancestry!" It doesn't matter that what we've just seen violates every one of those principles. This was a challenge to democracy, not a triumph of it.
aerials of barracks; military police; construction of living spaces by internees. mess hall; schools; general store;
clearing desert brush by hand. building irrigation ditches, plowing and planting. farming; laying water mains; medical shots; dentists; elections for camp government; court administered by internees; baseball and softball games; football. Church services; internees painting; Boy Scouts; U.S.O. Club (to provide entertainment for Japanese American soldiers who come to visit their families in the camps.) Red Cross; Campfire Girls; Harvest festival parade including floats;
sign: Vote for Sam Nagata for Councilman
many shots of Japanese Americans working in a wide variety of professions: as farmers; machine operators, nurses; telephone linemen etc.
many people are identified by their full names and have their lives before and during the war described by the narrator.

Japanese Americans internment relocation World War II WWII race racism
"Evacuation: more than 100,000 men, women and children all of Japanese ancestry removed from their homes in the Pacific coast states to wartime communities established in out-of-the-way places. Their evacuation did not imply individual disloyalty, but was ordered to reduce a military hazard at a time when danger of invasion was great. Two-thirds of the evacuees are American citizens by right of birth. The rest are their Japanese-born parents and grandparents. The evacuees are not under suspicion. They are not prisoners. They are not internees. They are merely dislocated people. The unwounded casualties of war."
"Each family, upon arrival at a relocation center was assigned to a single room compartment about 20 X 25 feet. Barren, unattractive, a stove, a light bulb, cots, mattresses and blankets. Those were the things provided by the government. The family's own furniture was in storage on the West Coast."
"Those who work are paid. Wages by outside standards are low. Twelve dollars a month for beginners. Sixteen dollars a month for most of the workers and nineteen dollars a month for professional people such as doctors."
"Some of the teachers [in camp schools] are Caucasian. Some are evacuees, Americans of Japanese ancestry."
"Evacuee doctors and nurses serve in the hospitals, under the supervision of Caucasians."
"The evacuees have a form of community self-government, which aids the appointed officials in administration of the community. "
"A judicial commission sits in judgment on minor offenses. Attorneys among the evacuees represent the prosecution and the defense. A serious crime would be tried in the regular courts outside the center. The crime rate among people of Japanese ancestry in the United State always has been extremely low and this has proved to be the case in the centers."
"Evacuees have provided practically all of their own [sports] equipment. . . .little government money has been spent for strictly recreational purposes. "
"The relocation centers include many well-known artists."
"Most of the alien Japanese are Buddhists, but almost half their American-born children belong to some Christian denomination, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian. Except for state-Shinto, involving Emperor worship, there is no restriction on religion in relocation centers."
"While they have many things in common with ordinary American communities, in the really important things relocation centers are not normal and probably never can be. Home life is disrupted. Eating, living and working conditions are abnormal. Training of children is difficult. Americanism, taught in the schools and churches and on the playgrounds, loses much of its meaning in the confines of a relocation center. When the War Relocation Authority was only a few months old it was decided that relocation centers should not be maintained any longer than necessary."
[some Japanese Americans were permitted to leave the camps before the end of the war. there is a discussion of how these people were chosen and the possible unconstitutionality of the relocation, also much footage]
"Relocation of evacuees is not being carried out at the expense of national security. Only those evacuees whose statements and whose acts leave no question of their loyalty to the United States are permitted to leave."
"American flags, some of them for the armed forces, are turned out by Mrs. Yoshii Abe [sp.?]. She hopes that one of the flags she makes someday maybe be carried in triumph down the streets of Tokyo."
"The Americanism of the great majority of America's Japanese finds its highest expression in the thousands who are in the United States Army, almost half of them are in a Japanese American combat team. . . .Hundreds of them volunteered while they were in relocation centers. . . .They know what they're fighting against and they know what they're fighting for -- their country and for the American ideals that are part of their upbringing -- democracy, freedom, equality of opportunity regardless of race, creed, or ancestry. "


Reviewer: AynRandsPlumber - favoritefavoritefavorite - January 4, 2011
Subject: Don't bother me with facts, context or research.
Has everyone read "Historians For Truth's" post?

It's reasoned, well thought out and seems to be supported with facts and valid info. Is that okay, or shall we just stick our fingers in our ears and hum? Many of you have been brainwashed with knee-jerk, blame America first thinking, and will refuse to look into any of this information. Read oppossing views for yourself, check the facts and stop falling prey to the either/or thinking. One side says USA number 1 all the time, the other side says everything US is racist or suspect. Maybe the truth doesn't fit either agenda.
Reviewer: nevertell - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 10, 2010
Subject: Racism
The Us was racist back then.
Reviewer: pheret - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - January 20, 2008
Subject: a challenge to democracy
this is the most hypocritical (but at least they tried haha) explanation i have ever heard for a moronic governmental action!

no, of course they weren't nazi extermination camps; no one has said that. but they were a disgrace to human dignity and you MUST read between the lines. for example, read about the japanese unit during WWII. or that it might be BETTER to volunteer for the army than stay in a camp?

how about all these japanese who came from lovely parts of california (i know, because i live there), being fruit farmers or owning their own businesses or being DOCTORS? and then they end up in the mid-west which is FREEZING doing menial jobs and are NEVER asked their opinions.

yeah, i am sure all the nisei and isei have really forvigen the united states government. i haven't!
Reviewer: ERD - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 16, 2005
Subject: Lots of double talk!
This film shows the hypocrisy of our government during World War II. If these Japanese people were not under suspicion- then our government did not act like a democracy by dislocating them. The government went against the principles of our constitution- War or not, it was a disgrace!
Reviewer: Historian's for the Truth - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 6, 2004
Subject: Concentration Camps? Nonsense!
It is well-documented that the evacuation was motivated, not by racism, but by information obtained by the U.S. from pre-war decoded Japanese diplomatic messages "MAGIC" and other intelligence revealed the existence of espionage and the potential for sabotage involving then-unidentified resident Japanese aliens and Japanese-Americans living within the West Coast Japanese community.

You can read about MAGIC and it's subseqently being ignored by the reparations commission here.

The actual declassified MAGIC intercepts are here.

The U.S. Congress immediately passed legislation providing enforcement provisions for FDR's Executive Order, unanimously in both the House and Senate, provided under Article 1, Section 9 of the United States Constitution.

Only persons of Japanese ancestry (alien and citizen) residing in the West Coast military zones were affected by the evacuation order. Those living elsewhere were not affected at all.

It is not true that Japanese-Americans were "interned. Only Japanese nationals (enemy aliens) arrested and given individual hearings were interned. Such persons were held for deportation in Department of Justice camps. Those evacuated were not interned. They were first given an opportunity to voluntarily move to areas outside the military zones. Those unable or unwilling to do so were sent to Relocation Centers operated by the War Relocation Authority.

At the time, the JACL (Japanese American Citizens League) officially supported the government's evacuation order and urged all enemy alien Japanese and Japanese Americans to cooperate and assist the government in their own self interest.

Is is misleading and in error to state that those affected by the evacuation orders were all "Japanese-Americans." Approximately two-thirds of the ADULTS among those evacuated were Japanese nationals--enemy aliens. The vast majority of evacuated Japanese-Americans (U.S. citizens) were children at the time. Their average age was only 15 years. In addition, over 90% of Japanese-Americans over age 17 were also citizens of Japan (dual citizens)under Japanese law. Thousands had been educated in Japan. Some having returned to the U.S. holding reserve rank in the Japanese armed forces.

During the war, more than 33,000 evacuees voluntarily left the relocation centers to accept outside employment. An additional 4300 left to attend colleges.

In a questionaire, over 26% of Japanese-Americans of military age at the time said they would refuse to swear an unqualified oath of allegiance to the United States.

According to War Relocation Authority records, 13,000 applications renouncing their U.S. citizenship and requesting expatriation to Japan were filed by or on behalf of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Over 5,000 had been processed by the end of the war.

After loyalty screening, eighteen thousand Japanese nationals and Japanese-Americans were segregated at a special center for disloyals at Tule Lake California where regular military "Banzai" drills in support of Emperor Hirohito were held.

The Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Consitutionality of the evacuation/relocation in Korematsu v. U.S., 1944 term. In summing up for the 6-3 majority, Justice Black wrote:
"There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot --
by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight -- now say that at the time these actions were unjustified." That decision has never been reversed and stands to this day.

It should be noted that the relocation centers had many amenities. Accredited schools, their own newspapers, stores, churches, hospitals, all sorts of sports and recreational facilities. They also had the highest percapita wartime birth rates for any

More history for you to consider regarding the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians:

Consider that of the nine commission members, six were biased in favor of reparations. Ishmail Gromoff and William Marutani, relocatees themselves, sat in judgment of their own cases. Arthur Goldberg and Joan Bernstein made sympathetic, pro-reparation statements publicly before hearings even began. Arthur Fleming had worked closely with the JACL (he was a keynote speaker at its Portland convention in the '70s). Robert Drinan was a co-sponsor of the bill establishing the commission.

Consider that notices of when and where hearings were to be held were not made known to the general, non-Japanese public.

Consider that witnesses who gave testimony were not sworn to tell the truth.

Consider that witnesses who were pro-reparation were carefully coached in their testimony in "mock hearings" beforehand.

Consider that witnesses against reparation were harassed and drowned out by foot-stomping Japanese claques, that the commission members themselves ridiculed and badgered these same witnesses.

Consider that not one historian was asked to testify before the commission, that intelligence reports and position papers contrary to reparations were deliberately ignored.

Consider that as a result of the above, the United States Department of Justice objected strongly to the findings of the commission.

Lastly while we've all been educated on the doctrines associated with the rise of Nazism, I would be curious to know if courses are provided teaching the history of the doctrines of Japanese militarism, a belief system similar and equally as insidious as Nazism?

Any clasess on the kokutai? Hakko Ichiu? Any reading of Kokutai no Hongi? Shimin to Michi? The role of Nichiren Buddhism and Japanese "Language Schools" in teaching these doctines of Japanese racial superiorty to ethnic Japanese colonies throughout the word prior to Pearl Harbor?

Those of you learning this history at your public schools and universities should understand you are being taught an extemely biased and partial version of what really happened and why. I would urge you to go beyond the politically correct version of this history as propagated by the Japanese-American reparations movement.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 30, 2003
Subject: Or, How Concentration Camps Help Us Preserve Freedom
This stark film explains and attempts to justify the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. ItÂs a tall order, and the filmmakers seemed to have known it, for despite their newspeak terminology of Ârelocation and Âevacuation, they end up not really trying very hard to make this seem any better than what it really wasÂÂthe forced imprisonment of a group of American citizens based on race. Most of the reassurances the film tries to give that this is not what it appears to be are contradicted at later points in the film. ItÂs not imprisonment or even internment, the film says, but then it shows us the barbed wire fences and guards around the perimeter. The fact that these people are being Ârelocated should not imply that they are disloyal, but then they turn around and say that their presence on the west coast was a Âmilitary hazard. These people, despite their Japanese ancestry, are loyal Americans just like the rest of us, the film keeps saying, then it tells us that the Japanese-American medical personnel in the camps are Âsupervised by Caucasians, and even the doctors earn the princely sum of $19 a month. Finally, the film breaks down and admits that itÂs hard to teach the Âvalues of Americanism in a concentration-camp setting. Still, that doesnÂt stop them from ending the film by saying that we are fighting the war to preserve the American values of Âfreedom and equal opportunity regardless of race, creed, or color, an ending for this movie that makes you want to throw up. Of course, there are many positive scenes of camp life, but you get the impression that these good things were entirely due to the efforts of the internees themselves, with no real help from the government that imprisoned them. The film as a whole, as appalling as it is, is a fascinating historical record of one of the darker moments in the history of our government. ItÂs definitely required viewing for those who may romanticize our participation in World War II.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: N/A. Weirdness: ****. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****.
Reviewer: DrAwkward - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 23, 2003
Subject: Frightening
I'm surprised that the government did not attempt to destroy all prints and negatives of this film. This is one of the most shameful abuses of power that the US has ever turned on its own citizens, and here we see exactly how such an unequivocally horrible thing can be presented to an audience as something "necessary" for the "military security" of our country, something that appears not to be as destructive and immoral. That said, it is an document that provides firsthand images of the camps, and though it attempts to sugarcoat the interpretation of those images, it has nevertheless preserved them for posterity, accidentally providing its own future undoing. Watch and feel ashamed, but remember that it may not be the last time. Think how the word "evacuees" sounds so much like the term "detainees" currently in use to describe people held in Cuba right now.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 6, 2003
Subject: Spot the Government-speak.
In this peppy go lucky short which shows the Japanese Detainnment Camps were'nt so bad, the narrator is full of double talk of what's happening. These are'nt Detainment camps! They're 'relocation centers!' these aren't detainees, rather they are 'Evuacuees' (from what?). We see a sample family moving into their one room shack and sprucing it up with drapes, a little wood-work et al! After working in the fields, and facing some hard labor, you have the choice to go home. But only after what it seems to be about 20 pages of background checks. A shocking film, and an important historical artifact.
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